Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
The Riverside – West 105th Street Historic District lies within the English patent granted by Governor Nicolls in 1667-68 to City Alderman Isaac Bedlow. Until its urbanization at the end of the 19th century, the Upper West Side of Manhattan was referred to as "Bloomingdale." The name derives from the Dutch settlers who called the area Bloemendael in fond recollection of a flower-growing area in Holland. By the 18th century, Bloomingdale Road, following the course of an old Indian trail, provided the main link between the City in lower Manhattan with the farmland of the Upper West Side, gradually encouraging the growth of small clusters of villages along its course and the establishment of country seats in the adjoining areas by wealthy New York families.
Two such country seats were located near the Historic District. One of them, built before 1752, was known successively by three different names: the Humphrey Jones Homestead, the Ann Rogers House and the Abbey Hotel. It was a large stone house located between the present 101st and 102nd Streets , west of the present West End Avenue. The house remained a private residence until 1844 when it was converted into a hotel. It was struck by lightning in 1857 and demolished.
The second estate, known as "Woodlawn," belonged to Humphrey Jones’ son, Nicholas, who had acquired it in 176U from Charles Ward Apthorp. Situated between 106th and 107th Streets near Riverside Drive, it was the site of a skirmish during the Revolutionary War Battle of Harlem Heights. A detachment of Americans drove a British force southward from 125th Street into the neighborhood of 105th Street, where the battle continued near the Woodlawn mansion. Fighting ended with the appearance of more British and Hessian troops.
In 1816, Woodlawn was conveyed by William Rogers and his wife Ann to Sarah, her daughter by her previous marriage to Nicholas Cruger, a friend of George Washington. Sarah married William Heyward, a member of a prominent Charleston, South Carolina, family. In her generally caustic book, Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), Mrs. Trollope described Woodlawn as the loveliest mansion in the beautiful village of Bloomingdale. After William Heyward’s death, Sarah sold the estate in 1847 to the famous pill manufacturer, William B. Moffat, who leased Woodlawn in the late 1850s for use as a hotel. Moffat died in 1862 and under the terms of his will the estate was divided into lots in 1864 and sold. Myra Moffat, one of his daughters, lived at No. 321 West 105th Street until at least 1910. The Woodlawn House served briefly as the home of the New York Infant Asylum and survived until 1897.
The Bloomingdale area itself retained much of its rural nature until late in the 19th century. Eventual development as an integral part of the City, however, was assured by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which imposed the uniform gridiron plan of broad avenues and narrow cross streets of lower Manhattan upon the gently rolling hills of upper Manhattan. In the first half of the century, several large institutions established themselves on the Upper West Side, attracted by the ready availability of land. The Asylum for the Insane moved in 1821 to the area now occupied by Columbia University, and was known thereafter as the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. The Leake and Watts Orphanage moved in 1843 to a site above 110th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. By the 1850s, a number of hotels had appeared, catering to Manhattanites desirous of escaping the heat and crowds of the City during the summer months.
By the next decade, the increase in the permanent population was reflected by the construction of Ward School No. 54 at 104th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, to serve the families who lived in the scattered frame houses and on the farms in the area. This followed by only fifteen years the earlier public school built at 82nd Street and Eleventh Avenue.
By the end of the Civil War, it was apparent that the Bloomingdale area would soon be engulfed by the rapidly expanding City. Thus, it was proposed to modify the gridiron plan of 1811 for the protection and preservation of the Hudson River shore. The idea originated in a small pamphlet of 1865 by William R. Martin. Andrew H. Green, President of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, submitted a plan to convert the undeveloped Riverside belt of precipice into a landscaped ornamental park for the West Side from 55th Street to 155th Street. The plan, approved by the Board of Commissioners of Central Park under the Act of April 24, 1867, provided for such improvements as Riverside Park and Drive, Fort Washington Park, Morningside Park and new streets and avenues that conformed to the natural contours of the land. One of the results was the replacement in 1868-71 of Bloomingdale Road by a vide avenue, with central grassy malls from 59th to 155th Streets.
The new avenue was called the "Boulevard" in the area of the Historic District and the "Public Drive" to the north. In 1899, the Boulevard and Public Drive were renamed "Broadway."
In accordance with Green’s plan, the City had obtained possession of the lands for Riverside Park by 1872, and in the following year Frederick Law Olmsted, the great planner and landscape architect of Central Park, completed a map for the park. The park and drive were not officially completed until 1898, although a smaller section between 72nd Street and 79th Street was opened in 1891.
The residential development of the old Bloomingdale district proceeded slowly. Its pace was influenced by the opening of rapid transit links and by successive waves of land speculation and depression. Transportation was first provided by the Hudson River Railroad, en route from New York to Albany, which opened several local stations in the Bloomingdale section. In 1878, the Ninth Avenue El was extended to 155th Street, and the cable traction cars followed along Amsterdam Avenue in 1885. Finally, in 1893, New Yorkers approved the extension of the proposed Broadway subway with a station at 103rd Street.
Historically, the development of the City’s fashionable residential districts had been on the East Side. Speculative builders continued this trend by buying lots in Yorkville and even in Harlem before turning to the West Side. The development of the Upper West Side then became a victim of over optimism. In anticipation of all the public improvements proposed for the area, real estate prices were driven sharply upward, closing cut most small investors. It was not until the early 1880s that speculation on the Upper East Side and Harlem finally drove prices higher than those on the West Side.
Development began at the south end, between 72nd and 96th Streets. A pioneer was General Egbert L. Viele, who built the first modern residence at the corner of Riverside Drive and 88th Street in the early 1880s. General Viele, the first chief engineer for Central Park, was influential in publicizing the desirability of the area at, a very early date. His Topography and Hydrology of New York (1865) identified the healthy and unhealthy sections of the City and proved of great value to builders and developers. His map is still used by architects and engineers in their preliminary investigation of sub-surface conditions and their effect on the design of building foundations. General Viele did much toward clearing the area of squatters and securing legislation to grade the streets and provide other municipal improvements.
In August 1890, the New York Herald ran a series of editorials and articles extolling the amenities of the Upper West Side and especially of the Riverside Drive area. As a result, the upper middle class began for the first tine to take the -area seriously. The Herald focused attention on the proposals of Peter B. Sweeney, Chairman of the Department of Parks, for the creation of a "splendid public pleasure ground for lovers of the horse and the horse himself" on an embankment of the Hudson River between 72nd Street and 98th Street. The newspaper also portrayed the Upper West Side as an extremely desirable residential area:
The district to the east of Riverside Park as far as Central Park is likely, or rather, sure to become within the next twenty years, perhaps the location of the most beautiful residences in the world. The advantages of pure air and beautiful surroundings, glimpses of the New Jersey Hills at the end of each street, with the glitter of the Hudson between; the nearness of the parks and the accessibility of the district will be insurmountable factors in popularity. As the time of square brick and brown stone houses has gone by, so alas has the time when New York can afford to neglect her approach and her outward appearances.
There were other proposals for beautifying the park. One called for the creation of a Robert Fulton Memorial in the neighborhood of 110th Street. Complete with classical arcades, terraces and a grand staircase bridging the precipice of the park with the river below, it would serve as the great welcoming stage for arriving dignitaries. It was also hoped that the proposed World’s Columbian Exposition would choose New York for the fair and Riverside Park for the fair site. Although the fair opened in Chicago in 1893, the spirit of public improvement in New York continued, as evidenced by the numerous memorials that still adorn Riverside Drive.
Two monumental building complexes begun in 1892—the new campus of Columbia University on the Bloomingdale Asylum site and St. John the Divine Cathedral, on the site of the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum—embodied the optimistic forecasts regarding the future of the neighborhood. It seemed possible in the 1890s that the new town houses being built along Riverside Drive would lure socialites away from the East Side. The French Beaux Arts style houses found in the Riverside -West 105th Street Historic District bear witness to this hope.
A number of the City’s wealthy and affluent middle-class residents did respond to the attractiveness of this area. Although lacking the old family traditions of Fifth Avenue, and cut off from another affluent strip along Central Park West by multiple dwellings on the intervening avenues and the Ninth Avenue El, the beauty of Riverside Drive and the quiet peaceful atmosphere of such side streets as West 105th, attracted a stable group of prominent persons.
No. 310, for example, was purchased by Charles Appleton Terry, secretary and chief patent attorney for Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company and later a vice-president in the company. He died in 1939, and his son finally sold the house in the mid-1940s. No. 311 was owned by H. Herman Westinghouse, George Westinghouse’s stop-brother and president of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. Merchants, professional men and industrialists and major manufacturers were among the initial residents on 105th Street and Riverside Drive. Members of the Davis family, of baking powder fame, bought No. 330 Riverside Drive in 1905 and remained there until the last their died in the 1950s.
Perhaps it was due to such long occupancies that the architecture in this Historic District has largely been preserved in its original state. Remodeling has been minimal, and with the passage of time new residents continue to be drawn to this delightful area. Designation as an Historic District will conserve its harmonious architectural character.
The magnificent river view and park that adjoins these turn-of-the-century houses suggests the openness and scale of Paris. The juxtaposition of five-story row houses and the towering apartment houses nearby offers the sharp contrast which is so typical of New York.
The houses along 105th Street are all well-preserved, of the same height and set back an equal distance from the building line. Their entrances, of the English basement type, are located at street level. Strong horizontal lines are provided by the cornices, wrought iron balconies and mansard roofs. Together, these elements reinforce the visual integrity of the facades, while the bowed fronts of the masonry bays create a gentle rhythm along the street as it slopes down to the terrace above the Drive. The houses on Riverside Drive and on 106th Street, though generally taller, are equally imposing.
The visual harmony of the streetscape, seen not only on 105th Street but on Riverside Drive as well, was not accidental, but the result of restrictive covenants between the builders and their clients, clearly specified in the deeds: ". . . all parties are desirous of uniting for the purpose of restricting the character of the improvements to be placed upon said lots … so that the buildings . . . shall be of suitable character and such as are a benefit to the neighborhood.
Four building firms, all with offices on the Upper West Side, were associated with the development, between 1899 and 1902, of the town houses in the District: John C. Umberfield, Hamilton M. Weed, Joseph A. Farley and Stewart & Smith. Umberfield’s prospectus, "Description and Prices of Ten High-Class Modern Private Dwellings on West One-Hundred and Fifth Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive", which offered Nos. 302-320 for sale at prices ranging from $42,500 to $50,000, provides an insight into turn-of-the-century building practices. Umberfield worked from designs provided by the architectural firm of Janes & Leo for his houses on the south side of West 105th Street and from those of William E. Mowbray, of Mowbray & Uffinger, for Nos. 309-321 on the north side. Hamilton M. Weed, the builder-developer of Nos. 301-307 on the north side, also availed himself of the services of Janes & Leo, as did Joseph A. Farley, who erected Nos. 330, 331 and 333 Riverside Drive.
Stewart & Smith, a firm which had been extremely active in the development of the Upper West Side during the 1890s having erected over one hundred houses between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive from 75th to 107th Streets, executed the designs of Hoppin & Koen at Nos. 33^, 335 and 336 Riverside Drive, and of the well-known architect Robert D. Kohn at No. 337 Riverside Drive and the adjoining house at No. 322 West 106th Street.
The architecture exhibits an unusual degree of stylistic unity, a reflection of the short, three-year building span and of the desire to adhere to the spirit of the restrictive covenants. The houses are fine examples of the French Beaux Arts style which was introduced in this country by architects returning from their studies in Paris, or under the influence of men who had been to Paris. The new mode superseded the rows of simpler brownstones, erected by other builder-developers from stock plans. The architect-designed limestone row houses in the District have a new individuality. When, as on 105th Street, two rows of such houses were built, their rich and varied ornament creates an impressive blockfront.
– From the 1973 NYCLPC Historic District Designation Report
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